Taiwan Trip, June 2019, (Part 1 of 2)
5W, 1H of it
The last week of October 2018, Gab (Isya’s sister) and Merci (Isya’s mother) went to Taipei, Taiwan to attend Gab’s first international group exhibit. Aside from that, they took the trip as a break from their usual routines in Manila and Dumaguete.
Their five-day stay in Taipei, Taiwan did not bring any actual “pasalubong” or take-home gifts, but they had a lot of stories and memorable experiences to share with us, me and Ohio. We were enamored by their first hand experience and intrigued by their descriptions of what Taipei is for them. Gab describes it as a mini-chill Japan, and a city filled with trees. It had such a huge impact on her that made her want to study Mandarin. That gave us the impression that Taiwan is worth visiting.
Good thing that for Filipinos wanting to experience Taiwan, it is not difficult since we are granted visa-free entry until the end of July 2019. (Update: As of writing, the visa-free entry has been extended until 2020).
Ohio had just gotten his first ever Philippine Passport that he intends to use for his (limited) travel tendencies. Now, he doesn’t blame others if they hadn’t had the chance to use theirs outside of a legal documentation of their existence. Perhaps their circumstances prevent them the luxury of traveling abroad, and whatnot. He hopes not to ever get stuck in one place, is what he had always wished for himself.
Of course, it started with an idea from a different field of interest. Ohio was watching a video of The Verge regarding the apps they love to recommend, and the first app that they mentioned was Hopper. It lets you find and track low-price flights and hotels. He downloaded it and gave it a try.
Hopper’s landing page greeted the user with two blank spaces in which to put a starting point (Manila, no less!) and destination. In the many endpoints on the globe’s surface, we limited our considerations to budget and distance.
It was January; Year 2019, and Ohio’s mind wandered, and always has been prone to going off tangent. The significant portion his childhood consists of meshing daydreams with studies of reality… Anyway, Ohio’s thought of visiting Hanoi; or Bangkok wouldn’t be so bad as a first international flight for him; or would the traffic conditions in Jakarta be as bad as he hear they say it to be? He thought all of this, and other Southeast Asian countries and typed their capitals in the Hopper, checking for prices and availability.
When Ohio consulted Isya for her opinion, her response was immediate, as sure as she always is. “Let’s go to Taiwan!” she said. At the time of planning, Taiwan had granted Visa-free entry for Philippine passport holders up to July 2019. We wanted to hop on this opportunity which only made sense to choose to travel to Taiwan. Everything clicked all right.
We tried looking for the cheapest flight to Taipei, Taiwan and chanced upon Cebu Pacific, with the help of Hopper. The two-way ticket for the both us, cost around Php 15,000. It was the basic fare offered with no check-in luggage and no meals. We also decided to forego add-ons like preferred seat and insurance. It was Ohio’s idea that we purchase travel insurance from other insurance company named Chubb that has a more comprehensive benefit, in case something unfortunate happened to us abroad.
With enough savings in our pockets, we booked a trip to Taiwan. We were giddy about the whole trip because it was our first trip together abroad and it was Ohio’s first international trip.
It is also worth mentioning that the biggest factor, after all, that drove the idea to travel this year 2019, was to celebrate Isya’s 30th birthday in some other country. An important enough of a milestone deserves a memorable itinerary, which we will share in a moment.
Processing the Preparation
It was January 2019. Your mornings and nights might have been different from one another, yet when we refer back to our mental notes, nothing out of the blue rocked any of us. The same unimportant people were seated on important seats. The struggle had to beat on to remind us of the singular goal we all should move to. But we were plotting an escape, a temporary one, Isya and I, to remind us that there are other places, too, where we could move to, and possibly learn from. She had just booked a flight for the two of us to Taiwan, scheduled on her birth week.
This segment is brought to you by the nugget of wisdom of one Anita Desai. She said, “Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” In immersing ourselves, albeit for only a week, in the atmosphere of Taipei, Taiwan, we hope that we had grasped something from its people and culture to take and share back home.
When we decided on the date and purchased the ticket, the next practical thing to do would be to find a place to stay. We asked for recommendations, from relatives to friends to what would be the best option. It seemed that AirBnB was the obvious choice. It was not an easy process to find a place that we both would agree to. We considered things including budget, proximity to both bus and MRT stations. Also, is it a crowded area? Is it noisy in the neighborhood? Does it have a shared bathroom? Would we be alone in the place, or if not, would we have at least our own room? For every place I found that I thought would fit our wants and needs, I consulted Ohio to get his opinion and yes to the place.
The first AirBnB house we said yes to isn’t in the usual touristy area, nor does environment looked busy. It was on a hill, and we had the entire place for ourselves – our own kitchen, bathroom, and even lavatory. The AirBnB was in Da’an District. We were excited and made our itinerary based on the place we booked.
We booked our flight 6 months before the actual travel, that’s why we never bothered and worried that much of our confirmed reservation. Alas, come May our host cancelled our reservation due to a personal emergency. This disappointed us in that we would never get to experience the place. Plus, we had to look for another place in such a short time.
The second time we had to look for a place proved to be a harder task, and options were limited, many of which cost higher and in locations that we initially disliked. We tried hard to find a place in the same district as the first one. It was Ohio, who was able to chance upon this bedroom-only, shared bath, and within our budget also located in Da’an. The catch was the minimum stay is 7 nights; we were there for only 6 nights total. We tried looking at the other options but ultimately opted for what Ohio found, because it was cheaper than the rest, and found at decent-looking location.
We only got serious in doing our itinerary, days before our set travel date. So, how does one exactly make a memorable itinerary? We don’t know. That’s why during the waiting period, we asked our friends and family for suggestions. We also watched travel vlogs, read other seminal wanderers' travel diaries, and even did our own due diligence, dude. But to have a proper itinerary from the culmination of information these multiple sources provided, we had to narrow them down, applying whatever constraints we set up ourselves in. We, creatives that we think we are, thought it would be more sanguine if we came up with our own versions, to be fact-checked together when we’re done.
The central idea behind the making of both versions of itinerary relied on the location of the booked AirBnB. This meant that the first few locations that we’d like to explore must be within walking distance, then venturing outwards the Da’an District, further as the week progresses.
The itinerary was a mish-mash of recommendations from relatives and friends plus from our own research. We definitely work hard for wonder filled itinerary. Ohio and I had our task of creating a 7-day itinerary that we would both enjoy. We had written on Google sheet with the details of places, how to get there, coordinates, where to eat. For my part, I was so much into details that Ohio warned me that the itinerary should not be rigid.
The final draft of our Taipei Itinerary was completed only days before the actual trip. And by ‘completed’, I meant we had only planned for the first three days. We agreed that we would finish the schedule on Taipei itself. A fun way to procrastinate, sure, but there were no real crippling deadlines, so we allowed ourselves this. Alas, once we got there, we ditched the itinerary. Looking back on it now, its demise liberated us with Lao Tzu’s timeless wit: “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
A day before our trip, Isya decided to buy extra luggage because we each had 7 kg of carry-on. As most of you know, Isya thinks she has a tita body syndrome: which means not carrying heavy bags at her “age.” She purchased a 20 kgs additional weight and we were able to bring a small luggage with wheel (ah, the convenience). The additional luggage costs us an additional expense of PhP 2,000.00 – for Isya, it was worth the extra spending for comfort and evade backache. It would have cost much more if one of us got back injured. 😅
Actual Travel and Impressions
We set out early on the breaking dawn of 13th of January. We thought that we might be able to take the P2P (point-to-point) bus, but our flight was too early for the first bus scheduled to depart Quezon City. We had no choice but to take the convenient (but overpriced) Grab. Although our flight was at 7:20 am, we allotted three hours of travel time, considering the hellscape of Manila traffic. We were wrong, though, as traffic at those wee hours in the morning were relatively light and not a hassle.
Coming from Manila’s daily traffic congestion, the efficiency of Taipei’s transportation system is a welcoming shock. Pedestrians need not to race against time when crossing streets, as most motorists know to obey traffic rules. While there are still rude drivers, they are a minority, at least from what we have observed.
Fuyang lane in Da’an District, where we booked our stay for one week, seemed an ideal neighborhood: few people, few motorists, serene. Not to mention there is an Eco Park well within strolling distance.
We had a great afternoon walk after checking in at our AirBnB. It was a mini exploration of the neighborhood. One of the nearest “touristy” place in the neighborhood is the Fuyang Eco Park which, arguably, cannot be explored in one day. Still, the willing ear could almost hear the clatter of species in such green space, if it’s patient to distill the wind for their sounds. Otherwise, the slopes, the signs, even the trees sometimes, lead the way. The legs only have to follow the path of least resistance, but such cannot always be the case. It’s a good kind of fatigue, in our opinion, to be in the humbling presence of sentinel trees. When we visit again, we will try going to the cicadas’ area to hear their daily hymn.
The park also offered a view of the famous Taipei 101. It was a rainy and cloudy on our first day in Taiwan that a glimpse of the towering structure left us in awe. The experience at the park in a city has offered us what we can only hope or wish for Manila – the balance between greens (nature) and concrete.
Our continued exploration of the neighborhood made us wander to the nearest convenience store just a block away from our AirBnB. Interesting that it’s the same 7/11 we have in the Philippines, but with more and better selection of milk tea and coffee. We can say at this point that Isya is addicted to milk tea while Ohio on the other hand has gusto for drinking coffee. We did not spare any second in trying out local milk tea and coffee products found at the convenience store. Other perks of having to drink these delicious beverages also include Ohio’s observation that many of the receipts (that had accumulated during the trip) have dimensions thatplay around 50mm x 75mm (2" x 3"). Little info is printed on the paper, except for the amount you paid for the goods/services, and some QR codes that you can scan for more details. This tactic is definitely a nod to needing less paper and ink, but going digital doesn’t necessarily mean going green. Moreover, Isya also observed that these receipts serve as raffle tickets to what game, we don’t know. We wish we knew how to read some of the characters on the receipt that might have given us a clue on how to join and what the prizes are. 😉
We capped of our day with beef noodles and sayote tops cooked in sesame oil. It wasn’t an easy feat getting that tasty beef noodles because we got lost in all the foreign characters written on the order sheet. We were reluctant to speak lest we miscommunicate our intentions. If there were a competition for shy couples in a trip abroad, we think we would take the grand prize for The Shyest Pair.
On our second day, we ditched our itinerary and decided to go where it’s convenient with the light rain and overcast weather. We went out to immerse ourselves in the grandiose of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. The landmark houses the National Theater, National Concert Hall, and the main building that houses the huge monument of Chang Kai-Shek. A spectacle we witnessed was the changing of honor guards. Isya felt like the guards themselves were in deep meditation, as their synchronised movements require complete concentration and precision. Likewise, the choreography amazed Ohio, but he zoned out in the middle of the routine. We wondered, “Does Chiang Kai-Shek even appreciate the hourly show of changing guards?”
Digesting Chang Kai-Shek’s life and works made us hungry that after the slow tour we did by ourselves, we headed out in search for a place to eat. In its large complex area, we discovered a forested area at the back of the Memorial Hall, replete with different types of pine trees. More interestingly, tiny, nimble creatures live in the tiny forest – squirrels. They populate the area and are not afraid to get close to visitors.
Our search for a place to eat continued. After walking a few wide blocks away from the complex. There were a lot of café and pastry shop, but we wanted a heavy meal to fuel us for the rest of the day. We had our fill at this Japanese fast food restaurant, Sukiya, that specializes in curry dishes. After filling, and having a breather from all the walking, we strode again and went to explore efficient metro rail transit.
Another landmark worth visiting is the Red House found at the heart of one of Taipei’s shopping districts. Despite what its namesake implies, it has nothing to do with prostitution. It’s just literally red because of the bricks used for its structure. The Red House provides a market for local creatives where they can sell their arts and crafts. Inquisitive that Isya is, all the arts and crafts that she saw evoked feelings – feelings best explained by her exaltation oohs and ahhs. Ohio, on the other hand, would comment how it would be “an unnecessary purchase.” We didn’t buy anything, though.
It’s good, sometimes, to have a flexible itinerary, to give time to breathe, to give ourselves the chance to change the direction of steps, to explore the districts with or without access to internet.
Taipei boasts of extensive night markets scattered around the city, where you can eat different foods and buy stuff you might or might not need. The first night market we went to was the Ningxia Night Market, and it can host a train of people. One may want to quicken their pace, unless they find the smell of stinky tofu pleasant. We dipped our hands on grilled large mushrooms, watermelon juice, and red bean with custard pastry. This is one of the lowkey night markets in Taipei, yet is frequented by locals.
The whole trip we made whopping 23k steps. Fatigue finally kicked us in once we got back to the guesthouse and saw our bed.
Continue to Part 2…
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